Northward prison has created an avenue to give inmates a better chance at a new life.

The facility on Thursday announced its Fresh Start pilot program, an eight-week initiative crafted in conjunction with private business designed to give inmates a background in construction.

Three companies – Encompass Cayman, Phoenix Construction and Clan Construction – have signed on to send representatives to Northward to help teach 10 inmates a new career.

The group will construct a new maintenance shed from scratch on the grounds of the prison, but the hope is that the inmates will learn a new craft and new trade to follow up on after their release. Prisons Director Neil Lavis said Thursday that the Fresh Start program has taken a long time to design.

“This is quite a milestone,” he said. “We have a responsibility that we carry out 24/7, 365 days of the year, and that’s the responsibility to provide opportunities for prisoners to break the cycle of offending.”

Many of the inmates have already worked jobs in construction, and Mr. Lavis said he hopes to eventually expand the prison’s vocational training area into a full-fledged trade school. Graduates of the Fresh Start program may eventually gain opportunities for release on temporary work licenses.

If the program is a success, inmates will be able to learn their craft inside, then move to a status where they are able to work outside the walls during the day and return to prison at night.

Ryan Ebanks, the leader of the first group of Fresh Start inmates, speaks to the crowd.

Aduke Joseph-Caesar, the prison’s deputy director responsible for rehabilitation, said it is important to not just learn the skills for how to work, but also how to comport yourself in the workplace.

“We’ve been talking to the construction people and the contractors for a long time,” she said. “They’ve been saying, ‘We want to hire your men. They have the skills, but that’s not enough. We want them to be able to be team players. We want them to be able to want to listen. We want them to be able to work well as a normal person in the workplace.’ How do we provide that opportunity when we have a force environment in the prison? We’ve decided to bring the normal environment to the people. My grandma used to say, ‘If the cow won’t come to the water, you bring the water to the cow.’”

The prison worked in conjunction with the Cayman Construction Association to design its pilot program, and the inmates who complete it will receive a certificate of completion. They will also have the endorsement of industry professionals who have worked with them.

The first class

The program’s initial class of 10 was introduced Thursday at the prison’s main chapel, and inmate Ryan Ebanks was introduced as the group’s leader. Ebanks addressed the assembled audience and said he was proud to be a part of the pilot program.

“I’d like to give special thanks to the outside agencies that have come on board to acknowledge the skills, talent and trades that we have to take on all tasks whether big or small and to see the potential we all have,” he said.

Mr. Lavis addresses the audience at the prison chapel on Thursday.

“We will make this work because this is our shot to prove ourselves in order to transit back into society and to show people of the community that we are people too and we are talented …. We’ve made mistakes and we are prisoners, but we are people. We are good people.”

Ms. Joseph-Caesar said several studies have shown that recidivism is reduced when people have a better career choice upon their release from prison. Northward has provided hands-on training in skills before, she said, but now there will be a focus on integrating inmates back into the workforce.

“Working is not just about skills. It’s about your emotional intelligence. It’s about your ability to work well with others and to be a team player,” said Ms. Joseph-Caesar.

“When the boss says, ‘Look, we’re back on the project because we’re not meeting our deadlines,’ how are we going to work late? How are you going to stay focus[ed] and stay polite in the workplace? When the boss gets upset because things aren’t going so good, how are you going to manage when the boss talks to you a little hard? Are you going to walk off the job? We want to give people the opportunity to practice those skills.”

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